Portrait of an Adirondack River

If someone asked you to draw a river—a whole river, head to mouth—you might take a bird’s eye view and sketch it as it appears on a map. But to make a true profile of a waterway you have to look at things sideways.

Here are portraits of three of the Adirondack Park’s north-flowing rivers: the Raquette, the West Branch of the St. Regis and the Boquet.

Viewed as elevations, Adirondack rivers resemble mountains because they start in the mountains. Some have as much summit-to-base vertical drop as a High Peaks trail.

The Raquette (above) and West Branch St. Regis (right) profiles are from New York State biological surveys of Adirondack watersheds conducted in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Joan Weill Library at Paul Smith’s College keeps bound volumes of the reports in its archives and provided these scans. (Click images for a larger view.)

Both of the biological survey diagrams focus on fish distribution (the abbreviations on the Raquette elevation indicate species, ST=brook trout, LT=lake trout, Wf=lake whitefish, SmB=smallmouth bass, YP=yellow perch, etc.; N.S.A. indicates populations that are maintained by natural reproduction). One of the reasons for the survey was to improve fish-stocking decisions, which had been rather random, and rapidly upset the simple coldwater brook trout/lake trout fishery that evolved in the Adirondack upland over 10,000 years. The dominance of introduced species, such as bass, increases as elevation decreases toward the St. Lawrence River. But the Raquette elevation also illustrates a typical pattern of more dams and pollution as a river flows downstream.

The Champlain Watershed survey did not include river profiles, but to the left is a recent sketch of the Boquet River by the Boquet River Association. The main stem has a very narrow watershed and travels rapidly from Dix Mountain to Lake Champlain. The Boquet is the steepest river in New York State, with a vertical drop of about 3,000 feet over 50 miles. By comparison the Raquette River falls about 2,000 feet over three times the distance.

For a list of Adirondack rivers by length, click here to view an Adirondack Almanack post.

This post has been corrected: Dix Mountain is not in the High Peaks Wilderness; it is located in the Dix Mountain Wilderness.

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